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In the Garden: Growing Your Own Food Crops

Tina talks to Jeff Clarke, the Garden Supervisor at the Camden Children’s Garden about teaching kids how to grow their own food.

The demand for locally grown organic produce continues to be a strong trend in gardening, resulting in urban and community gardens popping in cities all across America.

Some gardens can be very elaborate, given the space, or they can be humble backyard plots growing a few edible plants. The idea of educating inner city children and adults to make better food choices and know where their food comes from will be passed on to future generations.

This is the philosophy behind the Camden Children’s Garden. It began with a group of volunteers from the Camden City Community Garden Club. Their primary objective, when they opened in 1999, was to have a place for children to run, jump, play and touch the plants without any rules. The idea allows children to explore at their own pace and learn about nature hoping to spark their interest in horticulture.

The Picnic Garden is a great example of how important it is for them to see how their food is grown. It immediately caught my eye once I entered the gardens. It is a garden filled with oversized tea cups and saucers with giant sculptures of ants. They also have a giant fork ready to dig in to the juicy tomatoes and other edible plants. Jeff Clarke of Camden Children’s Garden is Garden Supervisor tells me “Children today don’t see food in its natural state. They see food chopped up in plastic bags at the supermarket ready to be put in the microwave.” The gardens are a way for kids to see food growing. Many have never seen tomatoes, squash and eggplant actually growing on the vine or plant.

This concept appears to be working. Children come from all over the Camden area to plant the gardens with Clarke. In the following weeks they nurture and care for the plants until they are ready to harvest. They have an opportunity to grow plants in an outdoor space, which many children may not have growing up in the city. Jeff Clarke tells me some of the best experiences are watching the children pick and taste the tomatoes. Many have never tasted anything like it before. Jeff recalls one child saying, “that sure doesn’t taste like the tomato on my hoagie.” “Nope it sure doesn’t, “ Jeff replied.

In a garden filled with tomatoes, peppers, squash and eggplant, they can learn about the various types of tomatoes heirloom and hybrid and how to identify them. Heirlooms are the varieties passed down through time. They tend to be more acidic than sweet like some of the new hybrid varieties. They also have a larger leaf much like a potato instead of a small cut leaf pattern. The garden also includes a mini orchard with peach and apple trees with a garden for herbs as well. The hope is the knowledge they gain today will last them a lifetime and later past down to future generations tomorrow with the emphasis on locally grown food.

A DIRTY GIRL'S GARDEN

August: Gardening To Do List

August to do list, Here are the top ten things to keep your garden fresh from late summer to fall.

Photo By Gardens On The Go

1. Harvest ripe vegetables daily.
2. Start seeds for cole crops indoors, cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower.
3. Plant leafy greens, lettuce and spinach.
4. Harvest herbs for drying.
5. Keep garden tidy, remove any rotted fruit and dead foliage from plants and surrounding area. This will help keep soil borne fungus, diseases and pests in check.

6. Continue to water newly planted trees and shrubs.
7. Deadhead perennials, annuals.  Remove spent annuals that have gone to seed.

Photo By Gardens On The Go

8. Continue to deadhead and fertilize       container gardens and hanging baskets.

9. Stop fertilizing roses to avoid winter    frost on new growth.

10.Start saving seeds from heirloom annuals and vegetables.

A DIRTY GIRL'S GARDEN, GARDENMINUTE, inthegarden, VIDEO

In The Garden: Camden Children’s Garden

by Tina Sottolano-Cain

It’s summertime in the garden, filled with flowers and vegetables.

Days are spent weeding, deadheading, harvesting and of course relaxing in the garden oasis you’ve created. If this daily routine is becoming a little too boring it may be time to get out and explore some of the display gardens in and around your area.

One of my favorite summer activities, especially late summer is to take a road trip to local gardens. Public gardens are a great resource for education and inspiration. It gives you an opportunity to see a wide range of plants and how they are used in the landscape. With so many great gardens to choose from I thought the Camden Children’s Garden is an ideal choice.

Located in Camden, New Jersey, the gardens are situated on 4 acres of land.

Valerie Frick, the director of education, tells me the gardens were started in June 1999. “It was born out of the Camden City Garden club, which is a community garden that has been in existence since 1985.”

The primary focus of the gardens and the children’s garden movement was to have a place where kids can run and play throughout nature. Frick says there are no rules in the garden, “It is important to have a fun place for children to do things that children like to do, climb, run, jump, play, explore and discover.”

The children’s garden movement wants to ensure that at a young age the children become familiar with horticulture. By encouraging them to walk on the grass and touch the plants they can feel free to explore and learn. Frick also states, “What children learn when they are young gets carried over to when they become adults.”

Some of the display gardens you will see are inspirations from a group of local landscape designers and gardeners. They even included ideas from the children in Camden County. Frick tells me they went into the Camden County school district and asked the children what would they want to see in a perfect garden. One very memorable request from a child was to walk on water, another was to have dinosaurs in the garden. Both are reflected in the interactive water fountain garden and dinosaur garden where they can learn about dinosaur bones found in New Jersey.

Other requests came from teachers wanting to bring story books to life. It was also important that the gardens reflect the important programs in the schools like educating children on how to grow vegetables in an indoor space. Frick says, they wanted to tie in the work they do in the community with the work they do in the gardens. They are a non-profit organization and operate on grants to keep the gardens going.

The Camden Children’s Gardens is an amusement park dedicated to the thrill of growing plants and vegetables. They even have their own garden themed merry-go-round. For more information go to www.camdenchildrensgarden.org.